Heavy Curtains and deep sleep within darkness

Posted on May 26, 2022 by Margie Coughlin

        Tsering Woeser (ཚེ ་རི ང་འོ ད་ཟེ ར)


My Jowo Buddha sat
cross-legged in the seething
and ardent chaos of fire.
No time to write a poem, cry,
or even allow me to search for the countless treasures
behind those hurriedly hung curtains,
even though the ultimate truth
is actually impermanence
as personally manifested by Jowo Rinpoche. 

Those heavy curtains are a metaphor.
On the second day after the fire
they took a piece of yellow silk
covered with red flowers,
almost without a wrinkle,
cut without a trace,
and draped it behind what was reportedly
the ‘completely intact’ body
of Jowo Śākyamuni.
It seemed like a dense and seamless wall.
Who knew what was behind it?
Or what could still be there?
Those who persevere, you actually know
that invisible fire has been burning unabated,
and those heavy curtains
concealed the world
long ago.

Deep sleep within darkness.
One cannot but sleep deeply within darkness.
One cannot but rely on a dream
in deep sleep within the darkness . . .
But isn’t darkness also diverse?
It’s like these words (was it me who said them?):
‘You may think there is darkness in this world,
but in fact, darkness does not exist.’
And so, you can try and describe different forms of brightness— glimmering light, dim light, brilliant light . . .
soft light, warm light, intense light . . .
as well as the flash of light,

                that time the light extinguished
                             more quickly than lightning,
                                          did you see it?
          as well as the flaming light,

                        that time the unquenched light
                           burned longer than fireworks

                                                    did you see it?

Suppose there is no eternal light, then what?
Suppose there is not a single ray of light, then what?
Slowly entering sleep? Gradually dying?
And how, in this endless bardo,
can one be spared
the invisible temptations of every wrong turn?
A single drop of water falls on the eyelid
of the one who is fast asleep.

A single teardrop in the darkness laments
the death of the soul that lost its mind.
But some people say, as if in the whisper
of a country a lifetime ago:
‘If you want to know how much
darkness there is around you,
you must sharpen your eyes,
peering at the faint lights in the distance . . .’
 (Tsering Woeser, Beijing 2018, translated by Ian Boyden) 

A poem by Tsering Woeser from chapter 2 of Impermanence: Exploring continuous change across cultures, edited by Haidy Geismar, Ton Otto, and Cameron David Warner. 

Tsering Woeser (tshe ring ‘od zer) is a Tibetan writer and activist who lives in Beijing.

Impermanence Exploring continuous change across cultures Edited by Haidy Geismar, Ton Otto, and Cameron David Warner

About the Editors

Haidy Geismar is Professor of Anthropology in the UCL Department of Anthropology where she is also curator of the UCL Ethnography Collections.

Ton Otto is Professor of Anthropology at Aarhus University, Denmark, and James Cook University, Australia.

Cameron David Warner is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Aarhus University, Denmark.

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Heritage and Nationalism: Understanding populism through big data

Posted on May 23, 2022 by Margie Coughlin

How are the Romans invoked in Brexit Britain compared to Donald Trump’s United States of America, and to what purpose? And why is it critical to answer these kinds of questions? One might think that matters such as being part of a supra-national project like the European Union or electing the US Head of State would be decided predominantly based on the assessment of economic and political factors.

But is this in fact the case? What if, as time has proved, arguments rooted in identity and feelings of belonging were at least as compelling to human hearts and minds? Then, surely, it becomes paramount to know who people identify with, where they place their origins and the language and images they more or less consciously choose when thinking and speaking of present-day political issues and social challenges.
In this context, I began a large-scale and joint programme of research that used big social media data to establish how objects, people, places and practices from Iron Age to early medieval times have become rhetorical tools through which populist and populist nationalist views are framed and communicated today.
Notions of ‘us’ and ‘otherness’ are constructed through processes of identification with, for example, either the ‘Romans’ or the ‘barbarians’, native Iron Age tribes or Germanic peoples. When invoked, each of these collectives symbolises sets of values that may vary dramatically from one person to another and even within the same individual conscience.

These issues addressed here through a study of populist nationalist positions expressed on social media and linked to the Brexit referendum, Italian populist politics in the last decade and up to the 2018 General Election, and the United States in the ‘Trump era’.

An excerpt from chapter 1 of Heritage and Nationalism: Understanding populism through big data, by Chiara Bonacchi. 

Heritage and Nationalism Heritage and Nationalism Understanding populism through big data Chiara Bonacchi

About the Author 

Chiara Bonacchi is Chancellor's Fellow in Heritage, Text and Data Mining and Senior Lecturer in Heritage at the University of Edinburgh (from March 2022).

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Paper Trails special update CFP: ‘Hidden Voices’

Posted on March 20, 2022 by Margie Coughlin

In recent years, there has been an increasing recognition of the inherent inequalities in the way collections are acquired, described, and structured amongst collection professionals. A range of work is currently being undertaken in the sector to undo this legacy and find alternative ways of approaching the curation of collections that support the diversification of historical collections and that allow for greater representation of marginalised groups.

Examples include reviewing the terminology used in cataloguing, proactive  collection development, and co-curating exhibitions with members from marginalised groups.

There has been a concurring trend in  scholarship to draw on historical collections to reveal and reassess historically underrepresented voices of marginalised groups.

This themed update to Paper Trails will bring together practitioner, academic and student perspectives on issues relating to the mis- and underrepresentation of marginalised groups in historical collections and provide a timely insight into the current challenges and debates in this area.     

Topics might include:

  • The discoverability of material relating to marginalised groups
  • Absent voices and silences in collections
  • Bias in cataloguing practices and its impact on research
  • Collection-based collaborations between collection professionals, academics, and members of marginalised groups
  • Profiles of collections that contain the voices and experiences of those usually excluded from historical collections

Paper Trails brings together a diverse group of people both in its pages and its readership – researchers, practitioners and students – as well as featuring different historical collections (print, object and digital) held in a wide variety of different libraries, museums and archives. Its content is designed to bridge different communities of research and practice. The BOOC format creates a ‘living book’, which is entirely open access and evolves over time, allowing for different formats of pieces to speak in conversation.

Proposals, submissions and any questions should be sent to the editor Dr Andrew WM Smith (, who can liaise with the wider Editorial Board. When submitting, please indicate which Paper Trails stream you are submitting material for, and see our guidance for authors on the Paper Trails BOOC.

Submissions should be received by 30 September 2022.

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